Presented by the Laurens County Historical Society, Dublin, Georgia. For questions and information, please contact Scott B. Thompson, Sr. at dublinhistory@yahoo.com.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

SUGAR RAY ROBINSON

DUBLIN'S WORLD CHAMPION





"Sugar Ray" Robinson, a world champion boxer whose real name was Walker Smith, Jr., called many places home. Montgomery County, Wheeler County and Laurens County along with New York and California were all home to Ray at different times during his lifetime. Many people don't realize that he was a native of Georgia. As a result, Robinson is not a member of the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame. Ray's parents, Walker Smith and Lula Hurst, lived in Laurens County and were married here on February 20, 1916. His father was born near Rentz and grew up on the Peterson place south of Ailey. His mother's family roots were on the Hurst plantation in Washington County.

Ray Robinson recounted in his biography that his father, Walker Smith, farmed a small plot of ground, earning about forty dollars a month raising cotton, corn, and peas. In 1920 his brother in law, Herman Hayes, invited the elder Smith to come to Detroit, Michigan to seek a better living. Walker Smith received his first weekly paycheck in the amount of sixty dollars. It did not take long for Mr. Smith to figure out where he needed to work. The family stayed behind until Mr. Smith could establish a home. "Sugar Ray" recounts the trip that his mother, his sisters, and he took from Dublin to Detroit. Sugar Ray didn't seem to remember that he was born in Ailey, Montgomery County, Georgia. When he was seeking his birth certificate for medicare coverage, he found it in the Probate Court of Montgomery County. The house where he was born still stands across the railroad from the Thompson Lumber Company sawmill.

Sugar Ray's parents had their share of marital problems. At the age of six Ray was sent back south after living all but the first of his pre-school years in Detroit. He lived with his maternal grandparents near Glenwood in Wheeler County, just below the Laurens County line. He attended school there. He stayed in Dublin at times with his mother and grandmother before going north in the early 1930s.

Robinson's maternal grandmother, Anna Hurst, lived in a house at 518 South Jefferson Street in Dublin. Laurens County sold the house for taxes in 1935. Robinson's aunt, Maud Ree Hurst, purchased the house in 1938. Robinson fondly remembered the times he spent with his uncle Herschel "J.B." Hurst at the cotton market in Dublin. Uncle J.B. spent a lot of time with Junior buying him a boxes of Cracker Jacks on their trips in to town on Saturdays. The family operated a store next to their home on South Jefferson Street. J.B. and his brother Gus were mechanics in Dublin. Willie Lee Wells, another aunt, was slain by her husband Felix Wells in 1941.

As a boy, Ray was always looking for a fight. His aunt Maud Ree Hurst Foster remembered him saying "I want to find me some body to beat up!" Ray idolized his Aunt Maud Ree and tried his best to be like her. The Hursts have a strong sense of family. Many members of the Hurst family and related families still live in Laurens County. Maud Ree Hurst Foster, a delightful lady, has returned home to Dublin. Anna Hurst loved to watch Ray dance. She often asked Ray "come on 'Sugar', dance for me." The pet name stuck with the young man for the rest of his life. One day Sugar Ray brought one of his friends with him when he stopped in Dublin to see his grandmamma. That friend was a pretty fair boxer himself. Imagine the sight. There was Anna Hurst standing on her front porch asking Sugar Ray Robinson and Joe Louis, two of the greatest boxers ever, to dance for her. Early in his boxing career Robinson, was known as "Harlem's Dancing Dynamite and the Pride of Harlem."

Walker Smith, Jr. took the name "Sugar Ray" Robinson as an amateur boxer. As an amateur Ray won New York City titles in 1939 and 1940 with a career record of 69 knockouts, 40 of which were in the first round, in a total of 85 matches. Robinson's first professional fight was a 2nd round knockout of Joe Echeverria on October 4, 1940. He won his first 40 fights before losing to the legendary Jake LaMotta in February 1943. From then on Robinson was undefeated for over eight years. On December 20, 1946, Robinson won the World Welterweight Championship over Tommy Bell. Sugar Ray successfully defended his title five times. Sugar Ray defeated Jake LaMotta for the World Middleweight championship. That summer he lost the title to Randy Turpin in only his second professional loss in the ring. Ray took the title back in a rematch. Ray defeated Carl Olson and knocked out the great Rocky Graziano in his title defenses. He was knocked out for the first time in his career by Joey Maxim on June 25, 1952.

Sugar Ray retired after the Maxim fight, but returned to the ring on November 29, 1954. On December 9, 1955 he defeated Bobo Olson to regain the Middleweight title. After defeating Olson in a rematch in 1956, Robinson lost the title once again, this time to Gene Fullmer on January 2, 1957. Five months later, Robinson won the Middleweight title for the fourth time in a rematch with Fullmer. He lost the world title again in September of 1957, this time to Carmen Basillio, Ray regained the title in a rematch with Basillio on March 25, 1958. Sugar Ray surrendered his title for the last time against Paul Pender on January 22, 1960. The last five years of his career were spent fighting younger fighters with only moderate success. Sugar Ray Robinson, then 45 years old, lost his last fight on November 10, 1965 to Joey Archer in a 10 round fight.

Over his 202 fight - 30 year career, Robinson only lost 18 fights, most of those being the twilight of his career. After his career in the ring, Sugar Ray appeared in several television dramas. Sugar Ray Robinson, who once showed his athletic prowess on the streets of Dublin, was regarded by many as the greatest boxer of all time. He was a five time Middleweight Champion, a one time Welterweight Champion, and was revered by Muhammad Ali as "the King, the Master and my idol."

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